The phenomenon of eMarketing is, in essence, the age-old practice of direct marketing updated in modern dress. From the advent of the Sears catalog in 1893 to the blizzard of catalogs arriving in your mailbox today, direct marketing has proved to be a superior way to quickly and cost-effectively create a personal connection with customers, and garner immediate sales results. It also lends itself to greater measurability and testing in order to optimize results. Little wonder, then, that this tool has been universally regarded as one of the most effective forms of advertising.

Today, of course, digital delivery is redefining direct marketing. The advent of electronic forms of communication such as email and the Internet have given marketers new and even more cost-effective ways to become more focused and granular in their marketing efforts. And while some Internet marketing activities have failed to meet expectations--banner advertising, for example, while ubiquitous generally delivers disappointing response rates--more and more, marketers looking for the most effective way to reach customers online are turning to email. The Internet's most popular application, email has quickly become a communication standard, with both the number of email users and overall usage rates continuing to grow exponentially.

Email Marketing Best Practices

As with any other marketing campaign, careful planning and proven techniques are the best way to deploy the most effective campaigns and to realize the highest response rates. The key: putting the right offer in front of the right person at the right time.

Follow these common-sense and time-tested suggestions, and your campaign can produce tremendous results for new customer acquisition, customer loyalty and customer retention.

Segment Lists, Target Messages. Since prospects and customers are always more likely to respond to messages that match their interest sets, chop your database into smaller, segmented slices based on preferences and past behaviors, making your messages as relevant as possible to each group. Use historical data to apply what you know about the likes and dislikes of your target market segments, and develop your messages and offers to fit.

Personalize to the Max. Leverage the full power of your database to personalize email content to individual names, histories, likes and dislikes. In the world of direct emarketing, one size does not fit all, so use available tools to make your email as personal and as relevant to each person as possible.

Quality Over Quantity. Boost response rates by creating offers for unique products, useful information, compelling content, special pricing or gifts. Again, match the offer to the audience. Since every message in a customer's inbox requires time and attention, it's imperative to offer something of value, be it information, entertainment, or monetary. If you don't deliver, it's likely your customers will opt out of your mailing list.

Call-To-Action. Your campaign's primary objective should be to generate action among prospects. Encourage them, for example, to click and link to more information, to buy, join, communicate with a sales rep, participate in a survey, enter a contest or simply refer a friend.

Sales vs. Marketing. Many marketers view the Web as primarily a direct sales medium, rather than a multifaceted communications tool that can be used to create sales activities in other channels. In reality, however, sales are often not done on impulse or from afar. Decide which sales channel your campaign is meant to support.

Text vs. HTML. Give your customers the option of receiving messages in text or HTML format. Some people will always prefer text to graphics, and some email readers only support basic text. In either case, be sure your message has been tested for readability by all major email readers.

Micro-Sites. Providing a micro web site for response rather than just an email address creates more interest, more interaction and greater measurement opportunities. As always, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Online/Off-line Integration. Use a micro web site, too, as a response option for your off-line (direct mail, display ads) promotions. Again, you'll not only create more opportunities to interact with your customers, but you'll reduce clutter in print materials as you entice readers online for the full story.

No Spam, Ma'am. Don't send unsolicited emails. Spam messages are unwelcome, counterproductive and can seriously damage your company's reputation.

Respect The Customer. Messages and offers that go to unresponsive consumers week after week are no better than spam, so make it easy for readers to unsubscribe, access and change data.

Measure & Report. Tracking and analyzing the actions of your customers and prospects is critical to your success. After deploying several campaigns you will have generated a mountain of response information--invaluable data enabling you to create new and more effective approaches and offers. Remember: technology is a magical tool for marketing wizards to use, but does not replace the wizard.

Build vs. Buy. The availability of content management, data analysis and business rules applications make it hard for an ambitious IT department to resist the urge to develop an in-house campaign management tool. But creating, personalizing, delivering, and evaluating campaigns can prove to be surprisingly complex and costly. Companies should consider seeking the assistance of application service providers who can help:

Minimize Complexity. Integrating complex content management, electronic marketing and database applications from multiple providers can be a frustrating and expensive undertaking. Find a solution provider who has already made the development investment.

Exert Marketing Control. In many companies, the IT department still controls web site activities. If your IT department already has a huge backlog, look for solution providers that offer tools that allow you to work independently.

Maintain Scalability. Enormous bandwidth is required to manage large quantities of outgoing messages, incoming responses and undeliverable bounce-backs. Additional database power is required to manage and analyze personalization information, response knowledge and unique campaign data. Seek out providers able to bear the burden of this responsibility on your behalf.

Do Data Analysis. Response data is meaningless unless it can be analyzed and turned into valuable customer knowledge. Database-driven marketing requires sophisticated analysis tools that help to predict future actions based on past behavior. Search for a provider who has mature data analysis and reporting capabilities.

Leverage Marketing Expertise. Solutions that have been developed by software engineers without the aid of experienced, professional marketers often lack the critical understanding of marketing objectives, principals and methods. Look for firms whose leaders are business and marketing professionals, not developers.

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Mischelle Davis is Vice President, Marketing Communications, NewWorldIQ. Mischelle brings over 10 years of high-tech marketing experience to NewWorldIQ. She has held positions various product marketing and marketing communications positions at Qpass, Authentic8, Primus Knowledge Systems, Wall Data, Ivex Corp and Summit Software.